What you do with paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta ssp. papyraceus) after they bloom is largely a function of what you do with them before they bloom. Paperwhites are bulb plants that are hardy outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11 but also are used for forcing indoors during winter. The outdoor plants stay outdoors after they finishing flowering to bloom the next year while spent indoor paperwhites either are tossed in the garbage or planted outside. Their flowers' pure-white coronas and petals distinguish paperwhites from their relatives.
In the Garden
If you plant paperwhite bulbs in your garden one year -- September through December, they should produce their pale flowers for many springs to come. Paperwhites need only well-drained soil and a sunny site to thrive and even naturalize. Plant the bulbs so that their pointed tops are 3 inches below the soil surface, spacing four bulbs per 1 square foot.
Don't cut back the foliage after the flowers fade; wait until the leaves have withered to allow the plants to restock their food supply. At that point, cut the foliage to the ground, and wait for next year's floral display.
Forcing in Winter
The term "forcing bulbs" may sound harsh, but it simply means tricking bulbs into blooming when it is not their normal time to bloom. Most bulbs require a period of refrigeration to bloom in winter, but paperwhites do not. Plant them close together, pointy ends up, in soil, stones or sea glass, with the top one-half of each bulb sticking out of the material. Keep the soil moist, or, if you use stones or shells, maintain a water level up to 3/4 inch from the top of that material. The flowers should bloom in about one month.
If you force your paperwhite bulbs one year, don't try the same trick the following winter; it usually won't work because the bulbs have not been able to replenish their energy. Many people toss out forced paperwhite bulbs when the blooms are off the plants, but an option is to transplant the bulbs, yellowing foliage and all, into a sunny garden site. If you forced the bulbs in material such as stones or shells, then the bulbs may take two years to restock their reserves and flower again.
Origin of Genus Name
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the beautiful youth who spent his life admiring his own reflection in a pool of water; after death, a flower of astonishing beauty grew in his place. It is from this legend that paperwhites get their genus name, and paperwhites often attract attention whether they bloom in pots indoors or in fields of white in a garden.
- Sunset: Comeback Bulbs
- Horticulture: Growing Paperwhites
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Forcing Paperwhite Narcissus Bulbs Indoors
- Fine Gardening: Forcing Bulbs
- Sloat Garden Center: Plant Narcissus (Paperwhites) for Holiday Blooms
- Horticulture: Paperwhites on the Loose
- Henderson State University: Narcissus Tazetta
- EasyToGrowBulbs.com: Paperwhite (and its Cousins) Planting Guide
- Clemson Cooperatiive Extension: Spring-Flowering Bulbs
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.